Heart in Knotts – 1969’s “The Love God?”
Most are unlikely to equate ‘Sex’ and ‘Don Knotts’ in the same thought or sentence. The comedic actor was known by and large for “G rated” fare throughout his career; The Andy Griffith Show (1960), The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), How To Frame a Figg (1971), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1979), The Private Eyes (1980), just to name a few. While Knotts’ oeuvre consists of brilliant, wholesome humor, he did step into ribald territory at the close of the 60s, with The Love God?.
The plot is a hectic thing…
Osborne Tremaine (Edmond O’Brien – Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962), publishes a pornographic magazine, but has recently been found guilty (for the umpteenth time) of peddling it through mail, and violating decency laws. With his magazine shut down, Tremaine happens upon The Peacock, a struggling magazine ran by Abner Audubon Peacock IV (Knotts) that is about to cease operations due to financial reasons.
Seeing possibilities, and acting quickly, Tremaine shows up at a local church function that Abner performs in and proclaims he’ll help save The Peacock by stopping the sale of the building it is run out of, but there is only one day to do so. When Tremaine (purposefully) doesn’t arrive in time to stop the sale of the building, he tells Abner that the magazine can be run out of his office in New York, but that he should get a picture of a rare bird from Brazil for the new issue.
Abner is promptly sent packing to South America, and left in the middle of a Brazilian jungle while Tremaine begins publishing smut again, but under Abner’s name!
Eventually found, rescued, and brought back to the States by authorities, Abner is now considered a criminal pornographer with his reputations completely in ruins. Unable to find a lawyer willing to defend him in court, Abner is approached by two reps for Darrell Evans Hughes (James Gregory – The Manchurian Candidate, Hey! Also 1962!), a lawyer of notoriety when it comes to political and constitutional matters.
Thinking Hughes will defend his character and get him cleared, Abner is horrified to find that he is just a pawn, and his trial is a stage for a free speech rights argument. Hughes giving the following with passion:
“This is a dirty case, and a dirty little man. It is with disgust to the point of nausea that I find myself sitting next to this filthy little degenerate. But when I see this filthy little degenerate’s constitutional rights being threatened, then I must take this filthy little degenerate into my arms, clasp him to my breast, and fight for this filthy little degenerate’s constitutional rights and liberty with my very life!”
Found innocent and free to publish “his” magazine, Abner has been turned into a media sensation and a symbol of the free love movement. Tremaine acquires money from a mobster (B.S. Pully – Guys and Dolls, 1955) to meet the impending large scale printing costs, with the mobster acquiring an eager editor for the magazine in Lisa LaMonica (Anne Francis – Altaira Morbius from Forbidden Planet, 1956). LaMonica states that it is essential that they acquire Abner as the face of the magazine. The pieces all fall into place for a wild success.
Abner embraces his new, notorious celebrity, reluctantly, doing his best to embody it, but remaining his clean, and ultimately innocent self. I won’t ruin the ending for those who haven’t watched, or are interested in picking up this ol’ classic, but I will elaborate on a rather powerful thread to be found in The Love God?’s script and directing, both keenly crafted by Nat Hiken (Writer for Sgt. Bilko, 1996).
We see the powerful influence of the media’s interpretation of events, crafting a narrative to convey a specific message, or push an agenda. It is a kiss and tell in the same vein found in Sidney Lumet’s The Network six years later, Lumet’s later Power (1986), and Danny DeVito’s Death To Smoochy (2002). The truth isn’t what’s necessary, rather the nefarious ends derived from sensationalism and scandal are necessary, with those ends often being monetary in nature.
Despite its bawdy self, The Love God? is a satirical farce that drives home a rather beautiful takeaway through Abner Peacock’s tribulations. Being swept into an image crafted by tabloids and news outlets, Abner keeps his integrity. The media changed his image, but he himself is fundamentally unchanged, and will not change. Though filling in the shoes of a Hugh Hefner type while being farthest from it, resisting temptations and pleasures he could easily have, Abner is above the media influence, and doesn’t believe his own press.
The film is unexpectedly touching, and impressively thoughtful between all of the the laughs and bare flesh. There’s heart here!
Give it a viewing if you haven’t – Enjoy!